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Anna Orso / Billy Penn

The SEPTA Key and what happened to Philly transit when TransPasses died

Now, let’s talk for a hot minute about that Key website.

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There are officially more than 200,000 SEPTA Key cards in circulation; in the month of June alone, the transit authority tallied some 70,000 new Key card purchases.

SEPTA officials say the transition from the city’s old payment system to the new, digital method is ongoing, but the transit agency has now cleared one of the biggest hurdles: Getting city riders off the old weekly and monthly TransPass system.

Here’s how things went for the Key this month, and what’s next.

Wait so where are we on this Key thing?

On June 1, SEPTA completely phased out the old weekly and monthly pass system — those one-week or one-month “TransPass” cards (unlimited rides on the MFL, the BSL, the NHSL, buses and trolleys) that you could collect and then throw away — and migrated that entire process over onto the new digital fare-payment system, SEPTA Key. It was the largest Key transition to date, and at this point, the only major change left to be made on a city-wide level is the complete phasing-out of tokens. (More on that later.)

How have things gone since?

SEPTA Deputy General Manager Rich Burnfield said numbers are “significantly” up following a June that saw a large spike in the distribution of SEPTA Key cards, largely because the legacy TransPasses were entirely phased out. Specifically:

Between June 1 and June 27, there were 69,451 Key card purchases, bringing the total number of Key cards in circulation to 207,000. For context, there are about 600,000 daily riders who use City Transit — aka the combined ridership of the Broad Street Line, the Market-Frankford Line, buses and trolleys. However, this doesn’t mean a third of riders in the city use the Key. Burnfield said SEPTA estimates that people probably bought two, three or more SEPTA Key cards.

Are people using the website to reload?

Although there are 207,000 cards out there, only about 56,000 accounts exist, meaning only about a quarter of SEPTA Key cards are registered online and therefore receive the account protection perks SEPTA offers, like the ability to cancel a lost or stolen card. Leslie Hickman, SEPTA’s chief officer for rail transportation (subway/elevated), said ideally that number should be 100 percent, as “everyone should be protected.”

What’s more popular, weekly passes or the Travel Wallet?

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SEPTA

Of the about 69,000 people who purchased Key cards in June, about 45,000 of them — 65 percent — were weekly passes. The next-most popular option was the Travel Wallet, which was purchased around 20,000 times. Burnfield said the average daily usage for those using the Travel Wallet function is about 9,000. There were also about 5,000 one-day convenience passes purchased in June and another 5,000 monthly passes.

So are people really using their Key cards to reload money for transit payment?

They are, and those numbers are up, too. SEPTA says there were 167,000 reloads in June alone. In the 10 months prior, there were 395,000 — in total. Burnfield said the Key technology held up well, despite the influx of reloads.

“We had anticipated the increase,” he said, “and we had done some test loading on our system to make sure that, as we saw an increase, we’d be prepared for it.”

Are people using the online auto reload function?

Some are, but not many. Burnfield said about 7,000 accounts are set to active auto-reload.

Is that because the website is so, uh, bad?

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Screenshot septakey.org

The SEPTA Key website (septakey.org) has gotten plenty of negative feedback. It appears to be straight out of the last decade, and its lack of responsive design means it’s difficult to use on mobile. There was some speculation that the website was temporary, and another would be coming to replace it.

Probably not. Burnfield said he wouldn’t characterize the current website as “temporary.” He relayed, however, that SEPTA is working with vendor Conduent to improve the user experience. There isn’t a timeline set when the site and its features might improve.

How long will I get to play with tokens?

SEPTA still hasn’t set a timeline for phasing out the sale of tokens. So stock up! (Especially before the fares increase this weekend.)

“We really wanted to get through this month in terms of getting folks switched over from legacy passes,” Burnfield said. “We know it’s going to be a more significant change for customers used to using tokens.” He added that the public will get a 60-day notice before SEPTA officially stops selling tokens.

What’s the next step?

The agency says it’s hyper-focused right now on education and dispatching SEPTA Key “ambassadors” to stations and platforms across the city to assist riders in using the new system. Hickman said that in July, these ambassadors will be working to get as many customers actually registered as possible.

“Sometimes when a person makes a purchase at a kiosk, once it’s done, they just want to go and it falls off the radar until the next time they have to purchase,” Hickman said. “We’re hoping we can assist them to walk through the registration process.”